I had lunch with a trusted colleague in ministry the other day. We were talking about our churches, their ministries and reach in the neighborhood. I truly value my colleague and our collaboration. But what I most valued this day was, of all things, the prepositions....
In, for, with. Three little words that speak volumes about churches and our communities. Some churches, the best that can be said is that they are in the neighborhood. Like gas stations, schools and movie theaters, churches are located in the neighborhood on our blocks. If it is convenient and you like the service and price you're likely to go there.
There are some churches, though, that are for the neighborhood. These churches go out into the neighborhood and asked the question, "what do you need and how can we be of service?" Then, after hearing their responses, these churches seek to be what the neighborhood wants them to be. And if the services that the church meet your needs, you're likely to go there.
And then there are churches that are with the neighborhood. These churches embrace the issues that affect the neighborhood. Safe streets, happy children, decent housing, employment opportunities: Take your pick. When the church goes from looking at the neighborhood to walking with the neighborhood, there is a collective move from "them" and "us" to "we."
In these churches the church becomes part of the fabric of the neighborhood.
Interestingly, all three prepositions are needed to function as an effective church. Our city is littered with churches who, once great communities of faith, are now simply buildings in the neighborhood that has changed around them. Many churches have forsaken their evangelical mission in an attempt to be for the neighborhood and now function as social service agencies. And some well-meaning churches, in an attempt to walk in solidarity with their neighborhoods, find what they share most in common is a helpless frustration to make meaningful change in the neighborhood. But the church located in the neighborhood, providing for the needs of the neighborhood and walking together to repair trust and fight for the vision of God's world- this combination of prepositions becomes the catalyst of transformation on our blocks.
In, for, with...... Which prepositions do we think Gethsemane uses?